Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Grist for the Rumor Mill

By Mitchell
Updates at end of post

OK, here we go again. And just when life seemed to be calming down!

Yesterday we received an email from a good friend of this blog reporting a rumor of an upcoming change in priests at St. Agnes. The change would include the reassignments of Fr. George Welzbacher, the pastor, and Fr. Robert Altier, the associate pastor (supposedly to posts outside the diocese). This was apparently announced at the Tuesday morning Mass. Whether this was a formal announcement from the pulpit or a comment made from a parishoner is unclear. Nonetheless, the rumor was there.

Now, this is a matter of some interest to us since, in addition to the reporting we did earlier this year on the situation involving Fr. Altier and Archbishop Harry Flynn, we're also parishoners at St. Agnes. I don't particularly like dealing in rumors, so I did some emailing and fact-checking with friends last night and this morning. Turns out that the rumor is flying around via email, from several different sources, all saying basically the same thing. Although none of these sources are what could be called authoritative, it does seem apparent that something is up.

The rumor was reported today at Jimmy Akin's blog, and also at this local blog. As far as I'm concerned, that makes it fair game. But fair game for what? A lot of people are expressing instant opinions - shock, concern, sadness. Many fear for the future of St. Agnes, which is truly a jewel in the crown of Catholicism. Some wonder - perhaps I should say assume - that some kind of retribution is going on.

I'm going to withhold any extensive comment on this until we find out exactly what is going on - I have no doubt something's in the works, but I don't want to appear presumptuous about it all. And it really is mere speculation - even if we find out what happened, it's unlikely (although not impossible) that we find out why. (If, indeed, there is any why to find out.)

Having said that, I would like to offer the following thoughts:

I would caution everyone to stay calm and not jump to conclusions about this. This does not necessarily mean that we aren't in for a tough time, but we need more information to see what happens. There are many excellent priests in this Archdiocese, and depending on who the new pastor is (if this is, in fact, true), I don't see any reason to automatically assume that things will go downhill. (I could float the names of two or three priests right off the top of my head that I think would please many of us.) Remember, Fr. Welzbacher is in his late 70s, and were someone to tell me that he was getting ready to retire or to go to another, smaller, parish, I wouldn't have been surprised. And Fr. Altier, a pastoral man, may well be ready for a change. (UPDATE: St. Agnes says he's been assigned to a nursing home in Hastings, and this seems to be confirmed by several correspondents.)

The point is, again, that we don't know. And until we do know, this is all just a lot of typing and hand-wringing for no reason.

As I mentioned, this is not to discount the possibility of less favorable ramifications, especially concerning the school. I think the possibility of wholesale change for the worse is extremely unlikely, though not impossible. But based on some of the speculation being floated around, I think this is presumptuous. Let's just wait and see what happens, and keep calm in the meantime.

I apologize if some of you think this post has been kind of vague, but it's meant, more than anything else, to let you know that, yes, we've heard the rumors too, and we're checking them out. We're not oblivious to what's going on. And for those of you who might have read the blog during the previous story about Fr. Altier (and I know you're out there, judging by how our readership numbers shot up), rest assured that we'll continue to let you know what's going on as soon as we know more, and if there's more to say, we'll say it.

UPDATE: Thursday morning. Although most of the confirmations, so to speak, have centered around Fr. Altier, it appears that the rumor of Fr. Welzbacher leaving is true also. This comes from a source I feel is credible, and seems to me to make perfect sense when viewed in context. I don't feel at liberty to divulge the information yet, but (IMHO) it seems likely to me that his reassignment has nothing directly to do with the Fr. Altier situation.

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